Spectators planning a swift, early getaway from Munich’s Allianz Arena on Saturday are advised to rethink their schedules.
As the German domestic season approaches its nail-biting run-in, the decisive moments seem to be getting later and later. It is a risk to steal away before the final whistle, or when there is injury time still on the clock.
Take last Saturday’s climatic denouements in Freiburg and Dortmund. Bayern Munich, being held 1-1 by Freiburg, might have snatched three points on at least three occasions late in the day, Robert Lewandowski off target twice from range he normally finds accommodating, Leon Goretzka heading against a post.
Still, a point looked enough to keep Bayern, the champions, at the top of the table, because at Dortmund, who were sitting second in the Bundesliga on goal difference, 90 minutes were about to be signalled with the score at 0-0. Then the drama, from this season’s king of the late intervention, Paco Alcacer, with two goals, in the 90th and 94th minutes.
Or take Wednesday’s helter-skelter German Cup tie at Bayern, where the home team lurched from 4-2 ahead with 16 minutes to go, to 4-4, and then relied on a Lewandowski penalty in the 84th minute to finally eliminate second-division Heidenheim. True, Bayern had been playing with 10 men since the 13th-minute dismissal of Niklas Sule, but it was a breathless reminder of some of the defensive lapses that have made this season at Bayern atypical.
Bayern, who host Dortmund on Saturday, are not used to not being in command of their league, let alone struggling against lower-tier opponents, at this stage of a campaign. They have been German champions for the past six years, and until last weekend, looked to have made themselves favourites again with a sequence of six successive wins.
In the same period, Dortmund, who at one stage held a nine point lead, dropped seven points. Bayern had stalked the challengers and apparently unnerved them.
The title-holders remain favourites to retain the Bundesliga Shield, insists Michael Zorc, Dortmund’s director of football, although Zorc, who has been charting his club’s strategy since well before they last won the title, in 2012, might be suspected of mind games when he made the suggestion.
To take a two-point lead to the Allianz, with six matches left to play, puts the destiny of the championship very much in Dortmund’s hands.
They have some fitness concerns, with defenders Achraf Hakimi and Abdou Diallo out, Christian Pulisic likely to be absent and Alcacer, the specialist supersub, struggling with an arm injury.
But Marco Reus, the captain, will be available after time off to attend the birth of his first child, and Dortmund have a sense of momentum, although Bayern’s Thomas Muller, never short of a word or three when his competitive instincts are stimulated, argued that the breathless second half see-saw in the Cup will have an equally galvanising effect on Bayern for Saturday’s showdown.
“Letting a 4-2 lead turn into 4-4 shouldn’t be happening to us,” said Muller, “but then the second half ended up being positive for us even if it was a bit mad. We need to use that, to get ourselves geared up to beat Dortmund.”
Somewhere in the foreground of Muller’s mind will also be the events of 12 months ago, when, on the same 28th matchday of the season, Dortmund came to Bayern and lost 6-0.
The bounceback after their troubled 2017-18 season has been impressive. Dortmund defeated Bayern 3-2 at home back in October during the 15-match unbeaten run that ushered new manager Lucien Favre into the job and has set up the most compelling German title-race for several years.
The late goals have made it even more engrossing. Dortmund have turned draws into wins after the 84th minute in each of their last three matches. The coach would be entitled to claim ownership of a new phrase, ‘Favre-time’, for those closing moments when fitness and determination yield points.
So no early exits to avoid the traffic at the Allianz. Except perhaps for those in attendance who have invitations to Jerome Boateng’s party.
The Bayern defender is the subject of much criticism ahead of the most important fixture of the league season for having scheduled a glitzy get-together at an exclusive Munich venue for Saturday night.
Several Bayern players are on the guest list. Quite what mood they are in when they arrive at the Boateng bash remains to be seen.